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Friday, January 27, 2006

We're watching you

They attacked me

Big fuss over claims about Little Russ


Arianna Huffington & Tim Russert (below) are squaring off in a new Beltway battle.

Celebrity blogger Arianna Huffington regularly attacks "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert as a Washington insider who gets chummy with the powerful. Usually there's no response.

But now Huffington has really gotten under Russert's skin - to the point of drawing blood.

Yesterday the entire NBC News publicity machine went ballistic on the impresario of, whose Web site is eight months old.

"The last time we heard from Ms. Huffington, she was hiring private eyes to investigate reporters," NBC News flack Barbara Levin E-mailed me yesterday, resurrecting an old charge that Huffington has repeatedly denied, including personally to Russert in 1996.

(Full disclosure: I've been friendly with Huffington for years, and Russert has barely spoken to me since I profiled him 17 years ago in The Washington Post.)

Tempers at NBC flared this week when Huffington skewered Russert's ethics for using his prestigious Sunday morning policy-and-politics program to hype his 19-year-old son Luke's sports-talk radio show - on which the Boston College sophomore will be paired with frequent "Meet the Press" panelist James Carville.

"With anyone I know?" Russert coyly asked Carville on last Sunday's "Meet the Press." "Maybe you would be familiar with someone I'll be teaming up in this," Carville responded, even more coyly.

Huffington - along with her close friend, Slate magazine blogger Mickey Kaus - also derided Russert's scheduled keynote speaking gig next week at a journalistic ethics conference at Ripon (Wis.) College. She wondered if Russert will receive his standard $50,000-$60,000 fee along with first-class airfare for two - although, she wrote yesterday, "according to [Russert's lecture agent] ... private planes are strongly preferred."

NBC's Levin wouldn't answer my money question, but assured me that "all of Tim's limited speaking engagements are approved by NBC management."

Huffington scoffed: "Inviting Tim Russert to keynote a conference on journalistic ethics is like having Jack Abramoff keynote a conference on lobbying reform."

To support the private-eye allegation, Levin faxed me a passage from Republican political consultant Ed Rollins' memoir, "Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms," in which he claims Huffington sicced a detective on Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth - Russert's wife - during her then-husband Michael Huffington's 1994 California Senate campaign.

"Everything Rollins is saying is a fabrication," Huffington told me, "and I have said that many, many times."

And Arianna responds

NBC News PR Department Gets Down and Dirty...

Somebody's feeling the heat...

How else to explain the widely-off-the-mark responses from NBC's PR department in Lloyd Grove's column to our reporting on Russert's multitude of journalistic ethical conflicts.

Instead of dealing with the charges head on, the media giant and its Washington bureau chief Tim Russert have astonishingly decided to get down and dirty, dredging up and faxing to at least one reporter a 12-year-old false claim that I hired a private detective to snoop on Russert's wife Maureen Orth while she was preparing a hit piece on me for Vanity Fair in 1994.

I've denied this ludicrous charge, put forward without a shred of evidence many times before -- including directly to Russert during the '96 GOP convention in San Diego. But that's not the point. The point is that instead of addressing the issue of his failure to come clean with his audience on a host of ethical questions, Russert has turned the NBC publicity machine into a vehicle for sleaze and rumor-mongering.

How can one of the major news organizations in the world condone this abysmal behavior? Doesn't NBC News have ethical guidelines when it comes to this kind of thing? (And incidentally, why does NBC News refuse to publish its ethical guidelines, claiming that they are an internal document?)

Look, I know NBC News and Russert would much prefer to debate hoary charges against me rather than the real issues at hand. So let me remind them what those issues are.

Russert refuses to come clean with his audience about his role in Plamegate. He is a participant. He was interviewed under oath by Fitzgerald. But he continued to report on Plamegate as if he were a disinterested observer rather than a major player. And he still refuses to come clean and explain why he fought to keep from testifying in front of the Plamegate grand jury about his fateful chat with Scooter Libby -- even after Libby signed a waiver allowing him to do so.

Plamegate is the perfect segue to another unanswered question. How can someone with these ethical issues go and speak on ethics in the media, as Russert is about to do at Ripon College in Wisconsin next Thursday? And why is NBC refusing to disclose what his speaking fee is?

Russert's latest ethical lapse is his unseemly use of Meet the Press to promote James Carville's new XM radio sports show while refusing to come clean about the fact that Carville's co-host is Russert's college-age son, Luke.

NBC News' diversionary strategy might have worked in the days before blogs started holding the MSM's feet to the fire. But not anymore. One thing is for sure: the Huffington Post and many others in the blogosphere will keep asking the questions Tim Russert doesn't want to answer.

Here's the deal: we're tired of the bullshit. We're not some little groups like AIM or even Fair, but thousands of news consumers and we want you to do your job and stop with the GOP pimping.

posted by Steve @ 1:30:00 PM

1:30:00 PM

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